Friday, November 8, 2013

Fiction: 2013 Pod and Planet Entry - Economics

Written for the YC115 Pod and Planet Fiction Contest
Category: A Day in the Life
Economics

There are things that money cannot buy. No matter how much you have. No matter how good you are. Some things will never be able to be bought. Most people think that means things like honor. Loyalty. Courage.

Those people are idiots.

They are no different than the ash of my sweetleaf as it drifts down to the floor as I walk. Used. Discarded.  People understand so little.  “They hate you because you’re immortal,” someone once said to me.   It was only a few days ago, before things had happened.  “No they don't,” I had replied. “They hate me because they are not.”

People want truth to be complex. It makes them feel better. It gives them excuses. “He deserves it because he is greedy,” they tell themselves as they steal. “He has more than enough. Spread the wealth.” No. The greed that they see is reflected from only one place. Themselves. But it is sweet comfort... that transference of responsibility. Isn’t it? It lets them convince themselves that what they did was both worth it and not bad.

Don’t they say that if you tell yourself something enough, you will start to believe it? If you are that stupid, I can’t do anything about it. It isn’t going to affect me. 

I flicked the last of my sweetleaf into a recycler and exhaled. The last bit of smoke curled into the air and vanished towards the filtration ducts. Frosted, glass doors rolled open as the sensor decided I wanted to be there. Beyond them, the rich blue of the medical bay was cheerful. Blue does that to you. It makes things seem not so bad. Even when they are terrible the pretty colors make it a bit better. Only it’s not.

I smiled anyway. You are never unpleasant to the people that take care of you. Your body. Your food. Your ship. Your finances. You treat these people well and they treat you well. That means I smiled at the technician as he led me to my room. I said thank you. I showered with the rough, astringent gel that they like you to use. I followed the steps and stepped out of the shower, naked, to be led to my couch.

I hate the medical bay. I always have. It is one of the few reminders of the mortality of immortality. Here is where we come after death. Here is a time of helplessness. The air smells of weakness. I’m no one here. Another body. There is no one with a glass of good, Sivala wine and a plate of Gallente Spice cheese. There are no screens for me to watch the market. No one wants to discuss the price of isotopes. It is clean. Sterile. Blank. Indifferent. I’m nobody here and I don’t care for it.

I sat back and the connectors slit into my sockets I let the endorphin rush take me. That jolt of connection is like nothing else. Even the false connection of the clone bay still sends shudders of panicked ecstasy from head to toes. It reminded me of the pod. That time where every part of your body is replicated and expanded upon. Awareness becomes encompassing.  Everything is alive. Every moment is known. The world is revealed in painful detail.

And as I stepped upon the edge of complete and total understanding... I jump.

***

Dodixie is about as Gallente as you get. Its green. Its sleek. Its organic. The women are almost as fantastic as the food but neither match the liquor. I sat in my booth and savored pasta in a rich broth. This body couldn’t process stronger stuff yet. I kept to a white wine and let my body finish learning to live and breath and eat. The food was too good to waste on the floor and the virginal taste buds made every bite exquisite.

I had forgotten how good  those first meals taste in a new clone. I don’t spend much time out of Jita. It is normally a waste. Dodixie is a major hub. Number three of the big four places you go to get business done. It’s the trade hub for the Gallente Federation. Almost everything they do makes it through here before its packaged and heads up to Jita or out to Rens. Ships. Weapons. Women. Food. This is the place for all things Gallente.

It was also the place of my prey.

I wasn’t myself today. I’d changed a little during the jump. Looks matter. A different name . I’d turned from Bizz into someone else. Someone no one here had ever met. A minor trader with a small business in the implant contract market. It was one of my alternate corporate identities. I normally just played it through a series of layers to cover the tracks that led back to me. You don’t want anyone to know all of your business. Let them know enough that it looks like all but never hand it all over. Just like a girl on the first date. Don’t just give out the goods but keep them satisfied.

Implants are a small market. Everyone needs them but the overall turnover isn’t high. It is good money if you have the connections and patience. I have both. Some of my investments are long term, slow moving items. That is why it had taken me so long to notice that one of my employees was skimming off the top of my market orders.

He was smart about it. He took his time and it didn’t look like he ever got greedy. It was my own habits that found him out. Contracts are messy but lucrative when you can create bundles. People will always pay for convenience. By the time I traced back the discrepancies to their source, he was gone. He had his own corporation founded from the ISK he had skimmed off of me. It was neatly done. I was impressed and closed that particular set of loopholes he had exploited.

It was also not acceptable.

But he was good at what he did. He had slipped away long before I noticed what he did and vanished. It had not occurred to me that someone would leave Jita. Yet, as I walked down the lush hallways with real ivy trailing across the ceilings, I could see the draw. It was a lovely place. The vents puffed leaf scented breezes through the foliage. Women and men smiled with a bold eye. I nodded and returned a few smiles but I had a meeting to attend.

Stoxk, I recognized. He’s of average height and average looks with deep blue eyes and a ready smile. He looks mild mannered. He just seems to be a nice guy. I let myself respond to his charm as he shook my hand and welcomed me to his team. What a nice guy.

I had been working towards the invite to his corporation for almost a year. This alias had become a medium sized mover in a certain type of module only found in dead space complexes. Capsuleers have a taste for the exotic and CONCORD had never outright banned their use. High tax rates could be passed along to the buyer and my booster smuggling operation didn’t hurt me in his eyes. 

Boosters were a strange market. No station cared that they were sold. CONCORD Customs were stretched so thin that they only checked gate traffic. It wasn’t hard to move them around or get a reputation for selling them. But they were an awkward market and required a lot of patience. In other words, they were something fairly easy to specialize in if I was willing to make almost no profit.

But never zero profit. Never that.

I smiled at Stoxk. “Thank you for bringing me aboard,” I told him. Two weeks ago a recruiter had dropped a mail to me, wondering if I was interested in joining. I had gone through the song and dance that entailed, including opening my entire network history to their eyes. I found it amusing that they needed to trust me when they had approached me in the first place. Of course I fell all over myself to accept. Who wouldn’t want to become a core member of one of the largest trading corporations in Gallente space?

A lot of traders do not believe in joining corporations. The business is full of back rooms and quiet deals that are never written down. There are quiet battles that rage in the void of electronic entries and virtual promises. It is a world of secrecy where everyone covers their tracks and words never say anything. Stoxk was going to change the world and become a power through group effort.

It wasn’t a terrible plan. Cooperation can produce dramatic results. 

To bad he had crossed my path to get here.

***

I settled into Stoxk Corporation. My office was nice. High ceilings. Glass walls. My view was the main foyer where the market lists spanned from wall to wall. My chair was pure, Clorteler hotcat leather. Plush as the day it was collected. It was a comfortable place. A beautiful box that I pretended I didn’t even notice I had stepped into.

It almost made me like Stoxk. Cleverness does that to me.

He wanted to make money and I was good at making money. I was also going to be his best employee. Just amazing. So, I threw myself into his plan. I let them access my contacts and my trade routes and in turn I was integrated into the interlaced powerhouse that was STOXK Corporation (not to be confused with Stoxk the CEO). Stoxk was determined to break the mold in a big way. He was throwing out the idea that individual traders did best on their own and forcing the fact that corporation was more successful.  

He was right. The corporation made money hand over fist. I expanded my contacts considerably and started sourcing from fringe markets. Everything was worth it when your touch turned it into pure, delectable ISK. Who knew digital information could taste so good?

Each morning, I settled back at my console and pulled up my market orders. I logged into the system and let the information flow by. It flowed past my eyes telling me the status of fulfilled and updated orders. As it flowed past I absorbed it all and analyzed it. That was expected of me. But behind my eyes, other programs read what I read and that information filtered out and was accessed by my own programs.

Stoxk believed in margin trading to keep the flow of goods and the balance was delicate. He felt that ISK in the wallet was ISK wasted and ISK that we didn’t even have but could lean against was the best ISK of all. He only hired people who were skilled in this balance. 

“Goods in. Goods out. ISK making more ISK.”

That was the tagline on his memos. There were a lot of memos. Stoxk was a micromanager. A powerhouse. He kept his hand in every cookie jar and he expected the jar to like his hand being there. Over the months I watched bright traders rise and fall. Many didn’t like the iron fist approach. They had been independent and successful. Now they were cooperative and more successful. However, the past looks sweet through rose tinted glasses and after one of Stoxk’s aggressive moves or neatly written critiques (he called them After Market Reports) over their choices, they’d fold and bail from the corporation.

“We don’t want them anyway,” Stoxk said each time. It was believable to those that stayed. The ISK flowed like water into the corporation wallet and more and more people started to follow his path. “No heart in the weak.”

It was lovely.

Just lovely.

I let myself sink into STOXK. I made friends. I made enemies. I’m a charming guy. But most importantly, I made ISK. And with each bit of ISK that I made I learned a bit more about Stoxk and how Stoxk worked. I analyzed his habits and projected his possible futures even as I nudged and edged the corporation in the direction that I wanted.

It was not an easy task. Stoxk was a confident man. He had dragged himself up from hiring himself out to any Empire who had drudge duty to a successful self-employed businessman. He had crushed people on the way up. He was ruthless but considered himself just. Taking from those bloated on their own ISK never bothered him. If he could steal from you then you were too dumb to keep your money and he was doing you a favor.

A deed does deserve to be returned.

***

There are laws to economics. Call them the physics of the market. An object in motion stays in motion until it is stopped. Well in the virtual world of items and ISK an item only has as much value as it can hold in the eyes of a buyer. Nothing on the market is infinite. You can buy and sell as the market allows but you always work inside of it. Let a disaster happen, a new technology develop and everything can change in an instant.

Eventually a trader convinces themselves that some things are a sure bet. Nothing really is but we all lie to ourselves.It is a gamble and that is what addicts people to it. That long shot that pays off with a massive gain. Nothing else like it for a trader. More and more risks start to be taken and more and more success builds up. After a while, you’re an invincible force of ISK bulldozing across the trade hubs. It isn’t sane for anyone to get in your way.

I’ve found egos reach critical mass. Feed them and they will grow and grow gorging off of their own importance. Look to them enough and they come to see you as an extension of themselves. Your thoughts are their thoughts. Your actions are there actions. STOKX was at the top of the market. He moved and sold it. Or at least, his corporation did. And I was part his corporation.

I could use some sweetleaf. It had been a while. The cool, sweet burn would be nice against the alarms and blinking lights that started to sound. My finger twitched with the desire to bring a drag to my lips. Instead, I sucked in the sharp, intoxicating scent of shock as the smug air in the room evaporated almost as fast as the ISK levels on the live graph that was the far wall.

There is a look when a trader sees his wallet flashing down to zero. Its a freeze. Eyes are wide. Body is still. Sometimes they pant from the shock. Stoxk? He did it all. Then he started to cry. He had played and lost. I almost told him that the Secure Commerce Commission arm of concord would be looking over his transaction logs. I had the official letter after all. It had arrived just as I walked into the room. I had signed for it and it'd be remiss of me to lose track of such an important communication. Better hold on to it. Stoxk didn't look composed enough to take care of it.

“What the hell?” someone finally voiced the general mood of the room. “What happened?”

Across the board every buy order was filled. That was not abnormal. The problem was that every sell order was lower than the original buy order. I was quite pleased. I had been buying and selling to STOXK in almost an exclusive fashion for the last two months as I set up this particular moment. Under the blinking lights, surrounded by confused faces, I smiled.  Below me, Stoxk said, “Just leave," to the group around him. They all stared at him, confused. He had taught them to be led and then left them leaderless. It was kind of sad.

Nothing lasts forever. Especially when someone is destroying it around you.

I took that as my cue. He'd send the notification of terminations shortly. He wasn’t a stupid man. He’d recover and know that whatever had happened had happened internally.  I'd be gone by then.  Maybe he'd figure out it was me. Maybe not. I wasn’t going to enlighten him. While a nice card that said, “Bizz was here,” would make me feel good, it’d be stupid. There were other things that could make me smile out there.

And any villain knows that one of the keys to success is never to tell the hero what happened. It works that way here, too. Stoxk played and Stoxk lost. Me? I'd just get richer. Already, I had repurchased the entire depressed market. Some relisting and I'd walk out with barely a dip on the chart. After all, I had created the market that Stoxk rose upon and I had decided to take it away. It had never been worth what he was paying. I just let him use my money for a bit. But you never tell the hero (or the competition) why they lost.

After all. Some people would see him as a hero. He'd robbed from the rich and become successful bringing up others. Poor Stoxk. His corporation built from the theft of others who were better at the game came falling down.

Oh well. 

Economics after all. The law of the market may be manipulated but never controlled. Natural forces. Or something like that. I was off to find my sweetleaf.

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